Santa Kenny Is a Storyteller

Suffolk Coast Guard retiree “Santa Kenny” spins tales and spreads the joy of the season in Coastal Virginia
santa kenny

It was 2015, and Kenny Hydock of Suffolk had just retired from 30 years in the Coast Guard. Like many men who retire from the military, one of the first things Hydock did was grow out his beard. He didn’t know it at the time, but that small act would change everything.

A few months later, that beard was full and completely white—and people were beginning to take notice. In November of 2015, a friend from church asked Hydock if he would consider playing Santa. In response, he went home and shaved his beard off.

“I wasn’t ready. At the time, I felt that Christmas was too commercialized. Everyone’s spending money they don’t have,” Hydock says. “I knew there was more to it.”

The following year, Hydock and his family were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for Thanksgiving. He walked into a Walgreens to pick up some medication and spotted a Santa hat for sale for $5. On a whim, he purchased the hat, put it on and walked out onto the main street.

“It was like the world stopped and took a breath,” Hydock says. “Everyone was rolling down their windows, saying ‘Hey Santa!’ Kids were coming up asking for pictures with Santa. It was just amazing, a complete change.”

Hydock called up his friend from church to let her know he was ready to play Santa that year. He purchased a Santa suit on Amazon, and a few days later he was officially introduced as Santa for the first time. The occasion was the foster family service at Alive Church in Chesapeake.

“I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” Hydock remembers.

When he walked into the room as Santa, the kids were ecstatic. Everyone wanted to pull on his beard to make sure it was real. Hydock chose one child to come up and tug on the beard to test it out. The child’s eyes lit up as he announced to the room, “It’s real!”

That event was all it took; Hydock was hooked on Santa.

He played Santa just twice in 2016. Seven years later, East Coast Santa is in demand all across the Coastal Virginia region. Some of his popular events are Breakfast with Santa at The Founders Inn, Saturdays after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve at Chick-Fil-A on Virginia Beach Boulevard and the Suffolk Holiday Parade. He also does photography shoots and home visits, which are some of favorite opportunities to spread Christmas cheer.

EV SLEIGH: Kenny Hydock,AKA East Coast Santa with his red "North Pole Edition" Tesla.
EV SLEIGH: Kenny Hydock, AKA East Coast Santa at the Pinner House in Suffolk with his red “North Pole Edition” Tesla.

Hydock’s wife Charlene plays Mrs. Claus at most of the events, and she also uses her sewing talents to make his Santa suits. The Hydocks both teach classes through the Northern Lights Santa Academy, which attracts Santas from all over the world seeking to learn the tools of the trade.

Thousands of Santas dress up to spread Christmas cheer each year. So, what sets Santa Kenny apart? It isn’t a distinctive laugh. Hydock isn’t big on the ho-ho-ho’s. His full, perfectly white beard is, of course, one of his distinguishing features. But what really makes Santa Kenny special is his dynamic storytelling. It’s his believability, and his ability to pull even the biggest skeptics into a world where anything is possible.

“St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, is not just a person. It’s a belief in something that is special, magical and real,” Hydock says.

Hydock has stories about domesticating the hippopotamus Gayla Peevey asked for in the classic 1953 song, about the real life of Saint Nicholas (did you know he is the patron saint of pawnbrokers?), and about why Santa abandoned the expansion of his operations in the South Pole (penguin wings create too much turbulence for the sleigh).

Hydock has acquired an intricate collection of props throughout his years as Santa Kenny to help him tell the stories. One of his favorites is a box containing four jars of colored dust. The box is illuminated with LED lights and equipped with a micro fogger, which emits smoke when he opens it. Each dust represents a different color of the Northern Lights, which contain magical properties that help with everything from making the reindeer fly, to getting Santa down the chimney.

kenny hydock east coast santa

When Hydock gets into the stories, kids and parents alike love to ask him questions—sometimes out of wonder and curiosity, and sometimes to see if they can stump him. Either way, Santa Kenny is always ready to give his audience the answers they seek. Many of the stories are rehearsed, but he has had to improvise plenty of times, too.

“Skeptical kids always ask if I know the name of their Elf of the Shelf,” Hydock says. “The thing is, Elves on the Shelf leave the North Pole with their given name, but then they go through the Elf Adoption Agency and end up at places like Target. When you adopt the elf, you give it a new name. So, I know your elf’s original name, but I don’t know what you named it.”

For the children listening, the stories are pure magic. For those with more experience under their belts, the magic is in the joy that fills the room as Santa Kenny spins his tales.

“A person graduates from the believer they were as a child, to the believer as a teenager, and then as an adult. It’s just a different way of believing. For teenagers, the magic can be in helping the younger kids continue their belief in Santa,” Hydock says. “My job is to share as much hope, love and joy about Christmas as I can in the midst of everything that’s going on.”

Learn more about Santa Kenny at

Photos by David Uhrin

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